Colorado Man Dies After Pet Gila Monster Bites Him

By Zuri Anderson

February 21, 2024

Gila Monster
Photo: David A. Northcott / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images

A Colorado man died after he was bitten by his pet Gila monster last week, CBS 42 reports. A Lakewood Police Department spokesperson said medical crews responded to a home the night of February 12 on reports of an animal bite.

First responders reportedly found a 34-year-old Christopher Ward with a bite from one of his Gila monsters, a venomous species of lizards, and was rushed to a local hospital. According to a report from Lakewood Animal Control, Ward vomited "several times," passed out, and stopped breathing after he was bitten. He was placed on life support and pronounced dead this past weekend.

The day after the bite, animal control officers went to the house and removed two Gila monsters and 26 species of spiders with help from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Police said the Gila monsters were taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility in South Dakota.

Ward's girlfriend, who wasn't identified, told animal control officers he purchased one of the lizards at a reptile exhibition in Denver back in October. The other one was bought from a breeder in Arizona the following month. She reportedly objected to having the Gila monsters in her home.

The news station confirmed it's illegal to own this venomous species in Lakewood.

Gila monsters are the largest lizards in the United States, growing up to 22 inches in length, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo. They produce a small amount of venom, but their strong jaws can latch onto targets for minutes. These desert-dwelling reptiles are native to Arizona, California, and neighboring parts of Mexico.

Dr. Nick Brandehoff, a medical toxicologist and reptile expert with the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, told CBS Colorado the last known case of a deadly Gila monster bite was nearly a century ago.

"The vast majority of bites cause local swelling and bleeding. The last case I have been able to find was [in] 1930 and that was not even a medical journal case," Brandehoff told reporters. "I think this case highlights that any venomous animals should be respected."

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